Internet provides oppressed citizens outlet for opinion

By Freedom Newspapers

As the old saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” When it comes to getting information to the people, Chinese Internet journalists are proving that maxim true.

In a nation where for decades the government has maintained strict control over the media, the Internet is bringing new hope and new availability to information-starved Chinese.

Even though the communist government is in the process of “purifying” the Internet, intrepid Web journalists are not deterred. A recent scandal involving child slave laborers first came to the nation’s, and then the world’s, attention when a group of about 400 parents posted a letter on the Internet protesting the practice.

And as people are beginning to discover, once something is on the Internet, the whole world can see it.

Mark Twain once said, “a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth even gets its boots on.” In the Internet age, before the truth (or anything else, for that matter) even starts looking for its boots, a lie can get around the world several times. Chinese Internet journalists are counting on that speed, but to spread the truth, not lies.

They post information ignored or suppressed by the government-controlled media, such as riots that were sparked by special police units beating flower sellers in the southwestern city of Chongqing.

Residents had pleaded for local television to report the beatings, but nothing came of it. Apparently they hoped the police could be shamed into stopping their behavior.

Reports and photos posted on the Internet brought angry cries for change from across the country.

In earlier times, the next city likely would not have known about the trouble.

Of course, the government is not sitting idly by and ignoring this threat to its power to control information and, thus, people. At the beginning of the year it launched an effort to restrict blogs and other postings and, according to Reporters Without Borders, has jailed about 50 cyber dissidents so far.

Reporters without Borders spokesman Julien Pain is concerned people around the world might think the Internet has thrown open the Chinese media. “One cannot truly say that the Internet in China is becoming more and more free, because at the same time as the development of citizen journalists, the government finds ways of blocking or censoring content,” he said.

Although that’s no doubt true, we think Pain is underestimating people’s hunger for information.

Oppressive governments since the invention of radio have found it increasingly difficult to control what their people read, see and hear. As more people have access to new information, they find that the world is not always what they have been told it was.

And they look for even more information. In doing so, they put another nail in the coffin of government thought control.

Zhu Dake, a professor at Shanghai Tongji University, said, “The department of propaganda has sent out regulations to try and control the opinions spread on the Internet, but every citizen has the right to criticize or to take part in public affairs on the Internet. The government has to accept the criticisms of the people; it can no longer react crudely like in the past.”

Actually, it can and most likely will, but Zhu’s sentiments just might signal a new hope for individual freedom in China.

The government might crack down on Internet posts and blogs, but in the age of near instantaneous communications and high-tech cell phones with Internet access, nearly everyone can report on the events of the day.

And they can report to the entire world.

Stifling that, even for an oppressive government such as China’s, is a pretty big order.